Anti-bullying bylaws popular but ineffective in Saskatchewan

When Weyburn's anti-bullying bylaw came into effect in 2006, few people had Facebook and Twitter had only just been founded.

The bylaw was created in anticipation of cyberbullying, but it has done little to change the community. Police have steadily received bullying complaints every week.

Regina also enacted an anti-bullying bylaw in 2006. It has resulted in just one conviction, in 2015, according to police.

It is difficult to keep track of how many people have been penalized under such rules, since bylaw infractions are often charged the same way as traffic tickets, marked by a fine instead of a criminal record.

After Weyburn and Regina, several communities followed suit with their own anti-bullying bylaws: Grenfell, Eston and Etonia in 2013, Kerrobert, Milton and Kindersley in 2016.

Saskatchewan has a provincial anti-bullying action plan. In 2017, the province gave an additional $150,000 to partnering organizations to support the plan.

Education and mediation helping

Weyburn's bylaw has been challenged in court, but it held up and has been in use for over a decade.

The maximum fine for bullying as defined in the bylaw is $2,000.

So far, according to Weyburn's deputy chief of police, only two charges have been laid in court and the defendants did not contest them.  

Both investigations turned up evidence of cyberbullying.

Deputy Chief Rod Stafford said he doesn't think the bylaw has decreased incidents of the phenomenon.

"I would like to say yes, but it's so prolific on social media and hiding behind that perceived safety. My sense is that we only see the tip of the iceberg."

There have been several investigations into alleged incidents of cyberbullying but most result in a police visit rather than a charge.

Deputy Chief Rod Stafford prefers to pursue mediation and education, rather than punishment.

"When we do one or both of those things we've had great success in curtailing it. We never seem to hear of that particular person acting out in that way again," he said.

But do bylaws work?

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Brian Trainor, a veteran of the Saskatoon Police Service and an anti-bullying advocate, doesn't think that approach will work everywhere.

"That's fine, I guess, if you have a community where police have time for that type of thing," he said.

Trainor has been working for 13 years on trying to end bullying across the country, but he's not optimistic that it can be done.

"It's been around forever."

Trainor lobbied city council to enact an especially controversial bullying bylaw in Saskatoon, but it was rejected.

"I stand by the fact that a municipal bylaw could work, and it would simply be viewed as another tool in a police officer's toolbox I guess, or maybe a parent or a teacher's toolbox in the sense that you have some recourse you could fall back on," said Trainor.

The bylaw needs to have consequences severe enough to deter the bully, he said.

Instead of police acting as mediators and councillors, "you could have a bylaw officer deal with that type of thing."

It doesn't look as if that's a move Saskatoon will make in the near future, but Trainor is bolstered by some successes in his time as an advocate.

"I talk at all the northern First Nation schools," he said

Awareness has grown, he said, but the world has also changed. 

"You never would have talked to an 11 year old about suicide prevention," Trainor said.